Saturday, September 25, 2010

Record Stores I Have Known and Loved

In our current era where almost anything can be Googled or bought on Amazon or Ebay, the vital role that record stores played in the 60s and 70s might be hard to grasp. For those of us living down on the Midpeninsula, such stores played a vital role beyond just selling records, by serving as an information pipeline to what was occurring in the fast evolving rock world in San Francisco, other American cities, and the UK.  Because most regular newpapers (Ralph Gleason’s postings in the San Francisco Chronicle being a notable exception) did not mention anything beyond the biggest musical events, the bulletin boards in these stores, and the knowledge of their staff, were vital sources of information for what was going on in the local music communitiy.

The Midpeninsula had an abundance of stores, each with their own distinctive character.  One big difference had to do with who got things first. For at least the last decade, the mainstream music industry has decreed that all ‘product’ will be released on Tuesdays. In the sixties, records could come out any day of the week (well, maybe not Saturday or Sunday), and it was certainly true that not all stores got new releases on the same day. I remember having a bunch of new friends for a day back in December 1968 when I got a copy of the Beatles White Album a day or two before it was in most stores because the record store at Mayfield Mall somehow got a stack of copies before everyone else. I developed a routine of dropping into various of the area stores a few times a week, either riding there on my bicycle or grabbing a ride with family members of driving age.

The Music Box at Mayfield Mall was not that terribly different than the Mall stores of the last couple of decades with the exception that they sold vinyl records instead of CDs. They had a nice selection of cut-out records that would sell for $1.00 or less, and I did find some interesting things there, including the aforementioned Beatles early release and one of the few copies I ever saw in a store of the original Grateful Dead single version of “Dark Star”/”Born Crosseyed.”

Mayfield Mall was an interesting institution. One of the very first indoor malls, its advantage to me was a short, easy commute from home or school. You can read about its history here. It was converted to a Hewlett Packard facility in 1984.

A bit further away (and requiring a somewhat perilous transit over the Central Expressway/San Antonio overpass) was San Antonio Music, located in the San Antonio Shopping Center. I remember this store as having more knowlegable employees, and almost always having new releases on sale. I remember vividly riding over there in the summer of 1968 and snapping up a copy of the garishly foil covered Cream album Wheels of Fire, which was one of the earliest double LP releases by a rock act, for six bucks the day it came out. The music store is long gone, but the San Antonio Shopping Center remains, albeit seriously mutated from its mid-60s configuration. Gone are such icons as the iconic Menu Tree food court, which was two stories and featured a bunch of singing animated bird, and the San Antonio Hobby Shop, which started out in a small storefront on the eastern strip that also contained Thrifty and Woolworth’s and expanded to become one of the largest such stores in the country.  Today all of these are long gone, and the center features such franchises as a 24 Hour Fitness, a Trader Joe’s, and a Walmart. Incredibly, the 60s vintage Sears store remains its centerpiece, although it also nearly closed a few years ago.

Going northward from home, another regular stop was Town and Country Music, located near the back of Town and Country Village where the Day One baby supply store is located now. This was kind of a mom and pop operation, as I remember, but they did have a good selection as well as good prices. As a link to a still earlier era, they retained listening booths with turntables and headphones long after this user-friendly convention disappeared from the music sales culture. Of course, in today’s version of this, you can generally scan a CD’s bar code and listen to mp3s at a listening station at your neighborhood Border’s or check out samples online. Although the music store, again, is gone, Town and Country remains a thriving destination, little changed physically from its 1960s form. 

The area’s best record store was arguably Menlo Park’s Discount Records, on El Camino Real just across Live Oak Avenue from the original location of Kepler’s Books. Discount Records was a small chain, but the Menlo store didn’t have anything like a corporate feel.  Years before I began collecting records myself, this was a regular stop on the Saturday rounds I would take with my dad and sometimes my brother. Like Kepler’s, Discount Records was a place where hanging out was encouraged, and it would be common for us to be there for at least an hour while he pored over their always impressive stock of jazz records. It’s pretty easy to see where my own habits developed, and I became like the proverbial kid in a candy store once I got started. The staff there always knew their music well, and generally played really interesting records on their top-quality sound system.

As the rock era dawned, Discount Records was right there. They sold tickets to the Fillmore and other venues, and would receive a shipment of the small handbill sized reproductions of the Fillmore posters every Tuesday afternoon, which I made a point of picking up whenever possible. They also tended to have posters advertising regional events, and it was there that I learned about the 1970 and 1971 appearances at nearby Peninsula School by the New Riders of the Purple Sage that I will get to in a future post.

Another big asset the store had was a large selection of British Import LPs. In the 60s and 70s, British versions of LPs were generally pressed on thicker, higher quality vinyl and had sleeves made of a different, shinier formulation of cardboard. Many British albums were never released in the US (the two volumes of Diary of a Band by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers comes to mind), and they often came out in the UK months before they were released in the US, like the first two albums by Traffic. When a British act did release an album in the US, it was often drastically different in sequence and content than the UK version, a phenomenon best exemplified by the UK vs. US versions of the pre-Sergeant Pepper Beatles albums.

In 1970, what became my favorite area record store opened in Downtown Palo Alto. World’s Indoor Records established itself in part of a Victorian that still stands at the corner of Kipling Street and Lytton Avenue. WIR was a small, funky, one-person shop, owned by a friendly red headed dude named Roy. His avuncular, laid back manner, and his encyclopedic knowledge of the new music coming out, made it a great place to hang out, listen to, and buy music. The single big room was cozy, and stuffed with interesting records. Somehow he always seemed to come up with things that weren’t available elsewhere (like the original, super rare Glastonbury Fayre 3 LP set that came out in 1972), and he was also a passionate advocate (and canny salesperson) for obscure records. I remember him putting on the debut album by Jesse Winchester, then essentially unknown in the states, pointing out the production and engineering credits by Robbie Robertson and Todd Rundgren, respectively, and the few of us in the store being simply awestruck by the quiet glory of that magnificent, timeless record. He was also service oriented. I recall him actually trying to talk me out of buying Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, and even offering to take it back if I hated it (I kept it, of course).

In short order, World’s Indoor Records was joined in the Victorian by Chimera, which sold used books and used records. While used records and CDs are a common coin of the realm today, stores that sold them were still relatively rare as the seventies dawned, and Chimera, like its retail housemate, seemed to attract some of the best and most obscure recordings, most of which could be bought for around $2.00 at the time. Starting with a single room downstairs, Chimaera’s mostly literary holdings ultimately sprawled through the rest of the downstairs and all of the upstairs of the house, and ultimately outlived World’s Indoor Records, which closed sometime in the late 1970s.  Today the Victorian is broken up into apartments. Chimaera moved onto University Avenue for many years, and is now up on Middlefield Road in Redwood City.

A final oddity worth mentioning is Banana Records, which appeared in the late '60s on El Camino Real south of California Avenue. It had a reasonable, but not outstanding selection, but was notable because it was housed in a wooden cube resembling a record crate. The building remains, just a few doors down from the Palo Alto Fry's and it currently houses an Ipod repair facility. 

Up in the city, the ultimate record destination in this era was the Tower Records store at Columbus and Bay Streets, perched between North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. Long before it became an international franchise, there were three Tower locations, the initial store in Sacramento, the San Francisco store, and one on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. In this pre-Amazon era, Tower was legendary among the music community for having the greatest selection of records. It was not at all uncommon to find both local and touring musicians browsing through the vast converted grocery store. Tower also initiated the giant painted murals of album covers that adorned the exterior of the San Francisco and Los Angeles stores. Sadly, the entire Tower chain was sold and liquidated in 2006. 

Before I wrap this up, a couple of other regional nods. I first experienced the treasure trove that was (and is) Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley when one of the first bootleg records, Liver than You’ll Ever Be, came on the market in late 1969. At that point, the only place to buy it was Leopold’s, which at that time was in a small storefront in the mall on the north side of Durant on the block east of Telegraph, just across the street from where its much larger location ended up for a couple of decades until it closed several years back. During my college years and thereafter, Telegraph was the place to shop for used records, with the prime locations being the basement of Moe’s Books, which stopped selling records probably 30 years ago, and the original tiny location of the first Rasputin’s on the west side of the first block of Telegraph. Rasputin’s sprawled and has spawned a number of rather uninspired locations throughout the bay area, but the Berkeley location, particularly its roomy basement, still yields up some cool stuff.

In 1990, Amoeba records opened a bit further down Telegraph, and it quickly became and has remained the destination of choice for those of us that still buy records and/or CDs. Easily as big as the original San Francisco Tower, Amoeba has immense collections of virtually every genre of music, well organized and nicely displayed. The other two stores in the chain, on Haight Street in San Francisco and on Sunset in Hollywood, are even bigger, but the Berkeley store is still the best of the lot in my book.

The time warp award goes to Logos on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. When I moved to Santa Cruz for college in 1971, it was in a small shop on Cooper Street, just opposite the Cooper House. In short order, it moved to a location on Pacific proper a couple of blocks down the street. The building housing Logos was leveled after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, but it rose like a phoenix into its current two story location between Cathcart and Lincoln Streets, kitty corner from the Del Mar Theatre. Even before vinyl became cool again, they had a massive collection of vinyl that, I would swear, contained the same copies of Moby Grape and Doobie Brothers albums that they were selling back in the seventies. Their prices have risen recently in keeping with the resurgence of vinyl collecting, but they still have an amazing assortment of albums.

Well, I’ve wallowed in this particular brand of nostalgia long enough, and I apologize to those of you for whom record stores are not all that fascinating.  I will get back to musical events proper in the next post.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

MFU Be-In, El Camino Park, Palo Alto 9/29/68

The Palo Alto/Stanford/Menlo Park region has always been an intellectual incubator and, particularly during the 1950s through the 1970s, it was also notable for concentrating a critical mass of free thinking bohemians that, ultimately, changed the nature of the world we inhabit in profound ways.  From 1966 until its demise in 1971, one of the most visible manifestations of this energy in the community was the Midpeninsula Free University. As the name would suggest, offerings by the MFU were free, and essentially anyone could offer a course, but it also attracted its share of Stanford professors and others to its open-ended ranks. The university had its own publication, the Free You and a strong populist political manifesto. There used to be a fine web site, compiled by MFU lawyer Jim Wolpman, documenting the history of the MFU, but it seems to have disappeared. There is a decent Wikipedia entry here.

From1967 through 1968, it held its own Dionysian gatherings, with free music and plenty of speeches, in El Camino Park, a slim plot of greenery wedged between El Camino Real and the Southern Pacific tracks just opposite Stanford Shopping Center.  The first MFU Be-In, held on or around 6/24/67, featured the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Anonymous Artists of America. An eyewitness account can be found here.

My entire family and I made a very brief appearance at a Be-In held in the summer of 1968, probably the one on 6/23/68 advertised here, and featuring, among others, The Sons of Champlin and Charlie Musselwhite. At any rate, we parked at Stanford Shopping Center, walked across the street, and were confronted with a seething mass of people with no easy way to get close enough to the stage to even determine who was playing. The scene was too much for my family, and I don’t think we stayed more than ten minutes.

MFU Be In 9/29/68 Photo: M. Parrish
Not to be dissuaded by this experience, and with the Stanford Summer Rock show under my belt, I somehow convinced my folks to let me ride my bike to the Be-In held on September 29, 1968. This time, undeterred by uncomfortable family members, I stayed pretty much the whole day and, camera in hand, got to document a very memorable day of music. The event was nonetheless somewhat of a culture shock for me. I think it was the first time I saw such widespread consumption of pot and even alcohol, and there were also a few audience members letting their freak flags fly, so to speak. Paradoxically, it was also quite a family event, as demonstrated by the many young children hanging out on and near the stage. I guess I approached all of this with the eye of a cultural anthropologist and focused on the music. For this show, the stage was set up at the north end of the field, and you can see from the photos that the P.A. and onstage sound reinforcement was very primitive relative to what you see at a typical rock show today.

 Like the Frost shows, the rosters of artists at these events tended to be pretty fluid, so you could never be sure quite who would actually perform. The posters for the September Be-In promised Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Youngbloods but, unless either played in the gathering darkness after I left, they were no-shows. However, Quicksilver manager Ron Polte’s stable was well represented by two fine groups that, regrettably, did not make much of a commercial impact at the time, Freedom Highway and Phoenix.

Freedom Highway was a San Francisco band dating from the earliest days of the confluence of musicians that ultimately gave birth to the ballroom scene. According to guitarist Richi Ray Harris, they were regulars at Rodney Albin’s jam sessions at 1090 Page Street in 1966, where they were heard by Bill Graham, who offered them a gig at the Fillmore opening for the Buffalo Springfield and the Steve Miller Band (April 28-30, 1967). They also came under Polte’s management wing early on, and often shared bills with other West Pole (Polte’s management company name) artists like Quicksilver, the Ace of Cups, and Phoenix.
Freedom Highway 9/29/68 (From Left: Scott Inglis, Gary Phillipet,
Bruce Brymer, and Richi Ray Harris) Photo: M. Parrish

For most of 1968, Freedom Highway consisted of guitarist Ray, second guitarist Gary Phillipet, drummer Bruce Brymer, and bassist Scott Inglis.  I remember a high energy set with plenty of interplay between the two guitarists but, in the absence of any recorded material for comparison at the time, can’t provide a lot more information beyond this photograph. Miraculously, a Freedom Highway LP (now on CD) was released in Germany in 2002 and is available now on CDBaby. This disc, recorded in Freedom Highway’s house in 1968 and 1969 by engineers Bruce Walford and Paul Stubbelbine, reveals a sound that references both Quicksilver and Moby Grape, featuring memorable melodies, nice harmony singing, and relatively concise performances relative to some of the indulgences of the era. In 1969, Inglis was replaced on bass by David Shallock, who had worked with the Sons and subsequently played in the post-Janis Big Brother before returning to the Sons in both their seventies and 90’s-21st century incarnations.

Phoenix 9/29/68 (From left - Ed Levin, Jef Jaisun,
Stan Muther) Photo: M. Parrish
Phoenix 9/29/68 (from left: Tom Hart, Thomas Dotzler,
and Jef Jaisun) Photo: M. Parrish
Dotzler, Hart, and a fan 9/29/68. Photo: M. Parrish
Following Freedom Highway was another San Francisco group, Phoenix, whose lineup, carefully documented at the Chicken on a Unicycle website. At the time of the Be-In, Phoenix was a six piece, consisting of guitarists Stan Muther and Warren Phillips, drummers Tom Hart and Ed Levin, multi-instrumentalist Thomas Dotzler, and bassist Jef Jaisun.  Unlike Freedom Highway, no recorded music from Phoenix has ever been commercially released or, to my knowledge, distributed among collectors, but I recall their improvisations being much more extravagant, and Jaisun and Levin’s bare shirts and Phillips’ and Muther’s posturing and proto-head banging could have served as physical (but definitely not musical) models for many heavy metal bands.  As documented in the Chicken on a Unicycle Family Tree,  Phoenix experienced some cross-pollination of personnel with another band, Mount Rushmore, which at one time included Dotzler, Phillips, and Levin. Mount Rushmore released two albums, now available on a single CD High on//1969, but none of the Phoenix members play on them (although they apparently featured a number of Phillips-penned tunes).  Jaisun left Phoenix in late 1968,  scored a cult hit with his witty solo single “Friendly Neighborhood Narco Agent,” and is now a respected blues and jazz photographer. Phoenix continued for another year through a number of additional personnel changes, breaking up at the beginning of 1970.

Bobby Winkleman and Ross Valory 9/29/68
Photo: M. Parrish
Jack King, David Denny, and an athletic Jimmy
Warner  9/29/68.  Photo: M. Parrish
Both of these bands were received enthusiastically and, as can be seen from the photos, attracted a large number of very young kids on and near the stage. However, the audience really resonated with the next group, Frumious Bandersnatch. Although they never performed much outside of the Bay Area, and only released one EP during their initial tenure as a band, Frumious Bandersnatch’s members are familiar to many for their subsequent musical endeavors.  Most of the band did stints in the Steve Miller Band, and bassist Ross Valory and early member George Tickner were in the original lineup of Journey.  At the time of the Be-In, Frumious Bandersnatch was in its best known and most stable lineup comprising guitarists David Denny, Bobby Winkleman, and Jimmy Warner, bassist Valory, and drummer Jack King. With their three guitar attack, soaring harmonies, dynamic stage presence, and crisp songwriting, Frumious Bandersnatch deserved a bigger spot in rock history than they have received. One audience member who was mightily impressed by Frumious Bandersnatch was Steve Miller, who by 1970 had recruited 4/5 of the band (Valory, King, Winkleman, and Denny) to shore up his own group when his ‘classic’ lineup gradually splintered during the next year or so. Today a surprising amount of Frumious Bandersnatch material is available on CD, including their original EP (on a compilation called  The Berkeley EPs: Nuggets From the Golden State),  a disc of studio recordings called A Young Man's Song, a privately released set of additional studio outtakes featuring a trio of Warner, Winkleman, and bassist Jack Notestein, and a fine 2008 reunion disc, Flight of the Frumious Banderstatchthat is available on CD Baby. They even have a Myspace Page. Finally, meticulously researched family trees for both Frumious Bandersnatch and the Steve Miller Band can be found on Bruno Ceriotti's fine San Francisco Sound website.

Tim Davis and Steve Miller 9/29/68
Photo: M. Parrish
Miller was the last act I caught, and I suspect his was probably the last band to play, as he was still on and darkness was approaching when I left around 7 PM. Although the five piece Steve Miller Band comprising Miller, keyboardist Jim Peterman, bassist Lonnie Turner, drummer Tim Davis and guitarist Boz Scaggs did not break up until later in 1968, Miller played that afternoon in a trio configuration with just Turner and Davis. Perhaps for that reason, the music he played was more blues based than what I expected based on his ethereal first two Capitol albums Children of the Future and Sailor. I remember for sure that he played "Mercury Blues" and "Your Old Lady," both of which appeared on the wonderful (but regrettably out of print) soundtrack to the 1968 film Revolution. Miller had played the night before at the Fillmore West, filling in for Michael Bloomfield for the live Super Session gig that came out as The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. As documented in Al Kooper’s liner notes from the album, another guest guitarist that evening was Carlos Santana, and Miller apparently invited Santana down to Palo Alto the next afternoon to sit in for part of his set. Since I had heard the still unrecorded Santana a few weeks before, I knew what to expect, and the two played off each other with aplomb. Unfortunately, I ran out of film earlier in Miller’s set, so I did not get to document their collaboration photographically.
Dancers, El Camino Park 9/29/68 Photo: M. Parrish

Over the summer of 1968, the MFU ran afoul of the Palo Alto City Council over the noise generated by the Be-Ins. Although the sound system’s power was minimal compared to arena sound reinforcement today, there were sufficient complaints from residents nearby that the MFU’s permit was pulled in July. The council decision was appealed in court and ultimately overturned, but the September event turned out to be the last of the El Camino Park Be-Ins. Needless to say, they went out with quite a bang. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Airplane and the Dead at Stanford 66-67

As the San Francisco Bands were building an audience and looking for places to play, it was inevitable that they would turn their attention to some of the universities in the Peninsula. This was particularly true of the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, as they had deep roots in the folk clubs of the mid and south peninsula. Still, given the proximity to San Francisco and the potential of large audiences of college students, neither group played the Palo Alto area particularly often after they became established. The last Airplane show, discussed below, was in May, 1967 and the Dead did not play the Stanford Campus at all between the 66 gig discussed here and their memorable performance at Maples Pavilion on Feb. 9, 1973.

Finding information on rock, jazz, and folk performances in the mid-Peninsula area is challenging because they were only infrequently listed in the San Francisco Chronicle and were all but ignored by the Palo Alto Times and San Jose Mercury News. However, the Stanford Daily proves to be a font of such information, between calendar listings and advertisements. A recent perusal of the microfilm records of the Daily during the mid-1960s yielded some specifics about the early performances by the Dead and the Airplane, as well as some obscure records of a few other concerts held at Frost Amphitheater in in the mid to late ‘60s.

I’ll start off with a real curiosity, from the California Avenue shopping district of Palo Alto. Somewhat of a second downtown, California Avenue was at one time a real downtown of a separate community, Mayfield. Mayfield was annexed into Palo Alto in 1925. Mayfield’s original downtown remains a popular shopping and entertainment area, drawing many from the adjacent Stanford Community. In the latter third of the 20th Century,  the region was home to a great music venue, originally called Sophie’s and later renamed the Keystone Palo Alto. But what I want to highlight here is a short, but tantalizing remnant of a different establishment that sprouted across the street from the future home of the Keystone, at the corner of California and Park Avenue. The Red Hat, established on Sept. 24, 1966, advertised “Grandly Terrific Paranorma, Nocturnal Banquets, and Libations.” What was particularly interesting, however, was a brief writeup of the Hat in the Stanford Daily, which alluded to a run there by a band called “The Hasty Assembly,” made up of the best of several professional bands, including Rose Anne, original singer of the Jefferson Airplane.” Airplane fans know that the group’s original singer was Signe Anderson, and none of the Airplane biographies mention a Rose Anne, so either she played the folk clubs with some of the Airplane members before the band was established, but is seems unlikely that she was in the Airplane per se. One wonders if the Hasty Assemblage might have included some other musicians who went on to greater success in later aggregations. Alas, this is their only mention, and the two items shown here were the only references I could find to the Red Hat in the Daily. For the last several decades, the corner where the Red Hat was situated has been occupied by venerable watering hole Antonio’s Nut House. 

Anyway, back to the Airplane. It appears that they performed twice at Stanford. The first show, a co-bill with the Butterfield Blues Band, was held October 6 at the Stanford Basketball Pavilion. This was not Maples, where the Dead played in 73 when it was newly built, but what was subsequently called the “Old Pavilion” and more recently remaned the Burnham Pavilion, which appears to have had a capacity close to 2000 for a concert setting.

On October 6, the Airplane and the Butterfield Band were in the midst of a co-billed engagement at the Fillmore and Winterland (they played together in SF 9/23-25, 9/30-10/2, 10/7-9, and 10/14-16, certainly one of the longest runs ever at a Bill Graham venue).  On the last day of the Fillmore run, Signe Anderson , who left the Airplane to have her first child, was replaced by Grace Slick, but she would have been on hand for the Stanford Show. The Butterfield Band was also at the height of its initial power during this run, with Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop sharing lead guitar duties on extended versions of tunes like “The Work Song” and their trademark improvisational extravaganza “East West.”  Tickets for this show, sponsored by the Stanford Senior Class, ranged from $2 to $3.50.

Incidentally, this is not the only time the Butterfield Band played on campus. Here is a poor quality scan of a photo, credited to photographer Tom Wong, showing the Butterfield band at a Friday afternoon performance as part of a series of Chicago blues bands.

Seven months later, the Airplane was invited back to campus, this time to play at Frost Amphitheater in a co-bill with comedian Dick Gregory. Unlike later Frost rock shows, this one featured chairs and reserved seating, with tickets ranging from $1.75- 3.25. This was the most familiar Airplane lineup, comprising Slick, Airplane founder Marty Balin, guitarists Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen, and the rhythm section of bassist Jack Casady and drummer Spencer Dryden. In these few months, the Airplane had morphed from a fairly polite folk rock band into a psychedelic force of nature, as evidenced by a bootleg performance of their show two weeks later at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where they mixed older material with harder edged material like “White Rabbit” and “Saturday Afternoon/Won’t You Try.” The Daily published an uncredited photo from the Frost event that also included the following succinct review as a caption: This is the Jefferson Airplane. They make music, sometimes. They also make commercials for white Levi’s. They played at Frost Amphitheater on Sunday. They stank.” Had you been there, your mileage might have varied, but the Daily reporter was clearly not impressed.

Perusing the Daily archives through 1970 failed to turn up evidence of another Airplane performance at Stanford, and certainly not a co-bill with Santana, which is why I asserted in a previous post that it was most likely that Michael Shrieve would have first heard Santana at the 7/28/68 Summer Rock show rather than at a show where they supported the Airplane.  Although the Airplane played numerous shows during ’66 and ’67 in San Jose and at Santa Clara University (Kaukonen’s alma mater), and then performed at the Northern California Folk Rock Festival on 5/18/68, it, surprisingly, appears that the May show at Frost was the last time the group played in the Palo Alto/Stanford area.

It is well known that the Grateful Dead got their start in the Palo Alto-Menlo Park area, and members of the group undoubtedly played the area folk clubs scores of times.
Their show, held on at the Tresidder Memorial Union, had an admission cost of $1.25. The location was identified on the ad as the TMU Deck, which I believe corresponds to the union’s back patio, where classical and jazz concerts are held today.

While I was researching these shows in the Daily microfilm archives, I came up with a few other interesting shows that took place at Frost during that era.

First, three weeks after the Airplane/Gregory show, R&B star Wilson Pickett played the venue.

A couple of months after the Summer Rock show, on 9/24/68, the Associated Students of Stanford sponsored a concert with the Youngbloods and Sundown Collection. This was notable in being an evening concert, starting at 8 PM. As Frost does not have lights, the logistics of this show would have been interesting, to say the least - a bit like trying to play baseball at night at Wrigley Field before they put in the lights. The Youngbloods, fairly recently arrived from the East Coast, were coasting on the first top 40 run of their cover of Dino Valenti’s Get Together. At this point, they would have been in their original quartet configuration comprising front man Jesse Colin Young, guitarist Jerry Corbitt, multi-instrumentalist Lowell “Banana” Lovinger, and drummer Joe Bauer. Over the next year or so, Corbitt would leave, the band would pick up bassist Michael Kane, and they would come to epitomize the west Marin County laid back lifestyle.

The Sundown Collection were a pioneering country rock band, based in Los Angeles but originally from Fort Worth, Texas. The group, which never recorded, featured John “Rabbit” Bundrick, who went on to play with Bob Marley and a bunch of British rockers including Free and the Who, with whom he has toured since the 1980s to the present. The group had hopes for a major recording contract, but they broke up before one materialized.

I will get to some of the other notable shows held at Frost in 1969-1070 in a later post.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Summer Rock, Frost Amphitheater, Stanford, CA 7/28/68

As I spent more and more time listening to the music coming out of San Francisco, I became frustrated about it being so near and yet so far (particularly for a non-driving 9th grader. At that point, going to shows in either San Francisco or San Jose was pretty much out of the question for me, Thus it was a cause for celebration when I learned that a day-long rock festival was going to be held just a few miles away from home, at Stanford University’s gorgeous Frost Amphitheater. The Frost is a nice big bowl ringed on all sides by Eucalyptus trees. This picture,  two years later at the second QMS appearance at Frost, gives a feel for the amphitheater, which is simply a great place to hear music of any kind.  A sloping tiered grass lawn makes for good sight lines from almost anywhere. It turned out to be a cloudy Sunday afternoon, which was a real asset from a comfort standpoint, as I learned going to a few sun drenched scorchers at the Frost in subsequent years.

I think I learned about this show from a poster at one of the area record stores (more on these later). Paradoxically, the only mention of this show I could find in the Stanford Daily was this little calendar listing: 

My parents were initially leery of even such nearby event, but agreed to me going with Tim A., one of my neighborhood buddies. For some reason, I did not have the foresight to take my camera to this show, but Tim and I did attempt to make an audience tape of parts of the show on a little 3 1/2” reel tape recorder he had (we were foiled in our clandestine effort by some weak batteries that left the results unlistenable. And no, I don’t know what happened to the tape!).

Quicksilver at Frost Amphitheater 8/70 Photo: M. Parrish

One thing that was true of almost all of the rock events that occurred at Frost was that the lineups listed on the posters rarely corresponded to who actually appeared.This was  true of Summer Rock right at the outset, when it was announced that the planned opening act, Morning Glory, would not appear. Appearing in their place was Beggar’s Opera, not the Scottish band but a group from the east bay that did not make much of an impression on me at the time. I remember a curly haired lead singer and that’s about it.

Next up were the Sons of Champlin. At this point, they were unrecorded, except for a very obscure single (“Sing Me a Rainbow”/”Fat City”) released in 1967 on Verve Records that I don’t remember hearing on the radio at all. What did get them a great deal of airplay was their first Capitol single, “Jesus is Coming (pts. 1 and 2),” which they offered for free through the mail for anyone requesting it. The Sons at that point featured the longtime core of organist-vocalist Bill Champlin, guitarist Terry Haggerty,  and vibes, keyboard and horn player Geoff Palmer. The rest of the group was rounded out by the original rhythm section of bassist Al Strong and drummer Bill Bowen, and the horn section of sax player Tim Cain and trumpeter Jim Beem. At the Frost, their set was pretty much drawn from the material that came out early in 1969 on Loosen Up Naturally, their first and best album. Knowing them only from the single at that point, I found their combination of jazz influences (Haggerty’s angular, unorthodox solos, the horns, and Palmer’s vibes) and Champlin’s soulful vocals and organ) irresistible. This was either my first or second time seeing the Sons (my brother Bill and I also saw them at an evening gig in downtown Palo Alto at, I believe, the St. Thomas Aquinas church sometime in 1968, but I have kept seeing them whenever I get the opportunity over the years. Although the group has broken up more than a few times, and changed players with abandon, I have never seen a bad Sons gig.  For all things Sons see the excellent San Francisco Sound Blog, Sons roadie Charlie Kelly's Sons Page and the Sons own site.
Sons of Champlin Winterland 10/24/69 Photo: M. Parrish

Following the Sons were the Santana Blues Band, who were not in the advertised lineup. I knew their name from their frequent appearances as a supporting act at the San Francisco ballrooms, but did not know at all what to expect since they had no recorded music released at the time. As you might imagine, seeing Santana in their formative years was quite another unexpected treat. Having no context at the time, I imagine their set was mostly drawn from material that ended up on their first album, along with regularly performed early material like “Fried Neckbones.” I clearly remembered them closing their set with a long, long piece called  “Freeway,” but did not see any evidence of this composition either on records or on concert tapes until the 2 CD Live at the Fillmore ’68 was released. That double disc set, which concludes with a ripping half hour “Freeway,” is probably a good representation of what the the band sounded like that July afternoon. This was a transitional version of the Santana band with fellow Cubberley High school alum Greg Rolie already on keyboards and vocals but with original drummer “Doc” Livingston and a somewhat different percussion lineup. They all looked to be about 14 years old. I clearly remember a trumpet player, which does not jibe with the family tree at the San Francisco Sound website, but perhaps this was either a guest musician or an early appearance of Jose “Chepito” Areas, who joined the band officially the next year.  From what I have been able to determine researching Frost shows in the ‘60s, this was in fact Santana’s first appearance there, which means this was probably the first time future drummer Michael Shrieve saw the band as well (see discussion here).

Creedence Clearwater Revival’s first album had been played as an advance tape for months on KSAN and KMPX, and I picked it up right when it was released a few weeks earlier, so we had a pretty good idea of what to expect. At this point, the group was in transition from the more extended explorations of the first album to the amazing string of albums that came out in the next 3 years showcasing John Fogerty’s concise, tuneful songwriting and the group’s crisp ensemble playing. At Summer Rock, the group played first album material like “Suzie Q” and “I Put A Spell On You” along with a bunch of material from what became their second album, Bayou Country, including “Born on the Bayou”, “Proud Mary,” and a long, long version of “Keep On Choogling” that closed the set. A remarkable event during the closing number when a classmate of ours who was a remarkable dancer to the catwalk that spanned the orchestra pit and proceeded to do an amazing solo boogie that seemed to energize the band as much as the audience.

The Chambers Brothers were advertised as headliners, but ended up playing next, because the Quicksilver Messenger Service were late in arriving. At that point, “Time Has Come Today” was omnipresent on both the AM and FM airwaves, and the Chambers Brothers were at the top of their game. The group came out in hip finery including an assortment of straw hats (see the cover of Shout! which features two photos taken at this gig) and held the audience in the palms of their hands for a good 90 minutes. All I clearly remember of the setlist was “People Get Ready” and the inevitable long, long version of “Time Has Come Today" that closed out the set.

It was late in the day by the time Quicksilver finally took the stage. Theie eponymoua debut was one of the  first San Francisco albums I bought, and the group put on a fine set that drew mostly on material from that release. Even though the bulk of their their extraordinary live album Happy Trails was recorded a few weeks earlier at the Fillmore East, I do not recall them playing either of the extended Bo Diddley songs that made up the bulk of that record. Instead, I remember a very professional set, hour long set that included stretched out versions of “The Fool” and “Gold and Silver” along with the shorter, folkier tunes like “Light Your Windows,” “Dino’s Song” and “Pride of Man.” The group was in their best gunslinger finery, and I was particularly impressed by Cipollina’s remarkable amplifer setup, with the klaxon horns grafted onto its front. Although I got to see the Valenti-led group at Frost a couple of years later, this was my only chance to see the original quartet, and I felt very fortunate in retrospect to have had the opportunity.

I suppose Tim and I were picked up by one of his or my parents after the show as darkness started to descend on the Stanford campus. Given that it was July, this meant this long, very memorable day of music had been going on for seven hours or so. It was a hallmark of that era that one could see two bands that were among the most popular of their day (the Chambers Brothers and QMS), a perennial ballroom favorite (the Sons), and two emerging groups that made history at Woodstock a year later (Santana and Creedence) all on the same bill for $4. When you consider that was about the price of a record album in 1968, it really brings home what a bargain live music was at one time.